Sunday, 11 September 2016

Enforcing preferences and exploding egg whites

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single human being in possession of hunger must be in want of food. How they go about fulfilling this hunger, or with what food is ultimately down to availability of foodstuffs, finances to pay for said foodstuffs and resources to prepare or eat said foodstuffs. 

It seems incredibly obvious to say - but food and tastes are subjective. That said, there are some foods that many cannot object to. A huge silky chocolate bar or the fluffy, almost creamy seduction that the inside of a crisp roast potato offers. A cold slice of pizza the morning after a 20hr binge to finish that essay for the deadline. 

Some foods, obviously do not have such an appeal. Burnt chocolate, meat that has developed a colony of fungal growth, a raw dough. 

The purpose of a recipe is that you follow a set methodology using particular ingredients to finish with a particular result. There are many variations on any single recipe, but there are always base standards. A cheese omelette will always contain eggs and cheese rather than icing sugar and ghost peppers, for example. 

I have discovered a Youtube series called ‘you’re doing it all wrong’ where various cooks show the ‘right way’ of cooking something along with the perilous ‘wrong way’ of how things should be prepared or made. Though the series itself is primarily designed to enlighten, assist and educate the masses on making a range of items it often comes across as obnoxious and patronising. How can it be that something designed to assist do the opposite?

There are many, many reasons. Starting off with the title of the series itself, 'you're doing it all wrong' which comes across as patronising and condescending. The addition of the adjective "all" really demoralises a viewer and seems to be designed to obliterate any hope that a viewer understands food or how to prepare it. I suppose the main purpose is to promote their own videos of how things should be done… according to these guest cooks at least. It already sets things off to a bad start, doesn't it?

Maybe it is the fact I seem to love playing devil's advocate on this blog of late, but I can't help but feel these videos are primarily based on a singular opinion than any factual or food knowledge backing behind the majority of choices (and yes, they are choices) in the videos.  

What if I like some of the vegetables in a stir-fry slightly charred and others barely kissed by the heat? What if I enjoy my pasta separate to its sauce until I mix it in myself? 

These preferences don't seem to be taken into account at any stage, enforcing these preferences makes the world of food that much more reductive.

For example, the video on how to make oatmeal (or porridge for us UK folk): 
As the host proposes the argument "you want your quick bowl of oatmeal . . . instant oatmeal is not your solution". Without bringing out the OED the sheer irony of that statement  made me chuckle. 

First of all, oatmeal is such a strange name... though I suppose so is porridge...? 


Secondly, and most importantly, I have the distinct feeling that quick and instant could be used interchangeably and technically instant is the perfect solution if you want something to occur 'quick' or quickly. The incongruity of the statement is genuinely laughable. 
I mean it would be lovely if we could always make our porridge from scratch rather than relying on ready ground oats or pre-prepared packs of porridge, there is no denial on that. That said, I'm not sure how realistic it is to expect - nay demand - that we buy oats and potentially grind them ourselves of a morning.  

Okay then... let's try another video on how we should make mashed potatoes. 
Here, there are some genuine tips on the different types of potatoes and their ideal use - which is generally backed by botany and culinary experts alike. There are also some perils most people could face too - such as not cutting the potatoes at the right size, meaning they do not cook evenly. 

Things seem to go awry in this video where we are informed we should "kill it with cream", with "it" being the potato. The host in this video then proceeds to pour what can only be described as a lake of heated cream/milk into the mashed potato. It looks like a "sticky pasty lump of glue" - which is exactly what the host described the 'wrong' type of mash potato... 
Maybe it is just me - but this looks like normal mash to me? Unsure why this is 'wrong'?
If this video was in isolation, anyone would think this is a parody or satire… sadly no. 
To my clearly ignorant eye, this seems more like a herby potato soup sweating in butter... but what do I know?
Ironically - if we was to follow these recipes word for word, we wouldn’t have any variation in our food for better or worse. This is all well and good when I go out to restaurants and expect a certain standard of cooking and would demand that the menu is replicated on the plate I am served - but this cannot be the case in the domestic sphere. Simply put, part of the joy of home cooking is it’s idiosyncrasies. 

Overall I have found that the baking videos are more informative and based on scientific fact and culinary hints or tips to be less patronising as the cooking videos. Then I discovered the brownie video. 

I have many issues of critique watching the above video, so thought it would be apt to pose them in the same style as the web series:

  1. What if somebody prefers their brownie more of a cake consistency than they do fudgy in the middle? 
  2. Surely putting a brownie mix into a paper cake case, then using a recipe that makes it more of a cake-like consistency/texture makes it that much more of a cake and less of a brownie?
  3. Still on the paper cases, part of the joy that comes with brownies is the ability to share and distribute slices of joy that a traybake always offers. Don't ruin it in individual cases!
  4. Do brownies really need toppings to be a brownie? Not sure... 
  5. Surely if the brownie mixture and oven were that awesome there wouldn't be need to fiddle about with them in the oven - especially when they've barely been in a few minutes.
  6. If this really was the best way to make a brownie, a recipe, even if left in the video description would be nice rather than taunting us with your alleged 'baddass brownie'... 

Also - can we can take a brief moment to discuss how the only 'baddass' thing about these brownies is how they literally have every topping on them including the kitchen sink.. as the sunken middles really are a woeful sight. This is due to the host of this video taking the brownies out and switches them around in the oven to ensure an 'even bake'... which consequently lets the heat out of the oven and lets the middles of the brownies sink. That rings alarm bells for me, as she doesn't seem to understand that with cakes and bakes it is edible suicide to open the oven before they are done. No covering the sins with a masterful blob of salted caramel or ganache can hide from that. 

The ones on the left and right look like an abandoned mine...
With all of that said with me slating this video series, let's go to the opposite end of the spectrum... where some preferences should never exist.

Meet Kay of 'Kay's Good Cooking'... there is a joke in there somewhere. Kay is refreshing in the fact she doesn't claim to be the best cook in the world - and has a go at almost anything. This is wonderful, the results of her cooking however... not so much. I am spoilt for choice as to what video I should refer to, but this evening I have resigned myself to her "exploding meringues" video - a delight for all.

A meringue is a type of dessert made from egg whites that typically is used in 3 different methods - French, Swiss or Italian. Regardless of the method, each involves whisking the egg whites while adding the sugar until it massively grows in size and forms peaks that suggests how much air has been whipped into it. You want to keep as much air into it as possible so when serving on a tray to place in the oven you need to be as delicate as you can.

With that in mind let's look at Kay's attempt...
Meringues from the depths of Mordor
You may be asking 'how did that happen', well she decided to blitz the egg whites in a blender:
By using said blender, all air is pulverised out of the eggy mixture meaning it has no structure. One of Kay's endearing qualities is she doesn't look up or consequently follow a set recipe, leading to this creation.

Looking at the two web sources - one of improvisation and disaster and the other with pretentious overtones it is evident home cooking should be in between these two states. When making or preparing food we should have some idea of the end result to match our preferences. Equally we must include some spontaneity. Use technology absolutely - but possibly not to grind our oats during the morning grind or pulverise our eggs into oblivion for a tantalising dessert. Preferences are just that - but there should be some baseline and boundaries of how things are done in the kitchen. 

Do you agree we should have a medium or do you like your potato soup mashed?

Ain't nobody got time for that - accessed 11/09/16 - 
Brownie video (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16 
Exploding meringues (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16 
Mashed potato video (inc. screenshots) accessed 11/09/16
Oatmeal video accessed 11/09/16


Female culinary illusions

Fast forward to the modern age and we still have women who have gained a high accolade for their contribution to the culinary world. Fanny Craddock, Nigella Lawson and Delia Smith are probably the biggest British cooks and food television personalities. 

Focusing on Delia for now, whose ‘niche’ or demographic has always been basic food and refining culinary skills for the masses. I doubt you could find a recipe of hers describing how to create caramelised sugar cages to be placed over a tart, or using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream. Instead, Delia generally sticks towards the more simplistic, homely and at times rustic palate. Her role can be seen as an educator for the masses of how to cook or bake, which is clearly represented in the titles of the books she has published: Delia Smith’s Cookery Course, Delia’s How to Cook (Book I, II and III respectively) and Delia’s Book of Cakes. A brief analysis of the language used places Delia firmly in a position of knowledge, skill and acts as an exemplary figurehead of how things should be done in the kitchen. Much like Mrs Beeton’s Household Management a century before her, Delia’s texts are much more than a simple cookbook to flick through for a fun recipe, but in fact a manual of how we should function. While Beeton included guidance on servants or medical advice, Delia’s books track the introduction of other cuisines and styles into the British diet. The “Delia Effect’ has been economically mapped - as consumers of her books or tv shows en-masse buy products or utensils which she has recommended. Egg sales allegedly rose 10% in 1998. Anita Singh outlines the gravitas of the so called ‘Delia Effect’: 
She caused a national cranberry shortage in 1995 and transformed the fortunes of a struggling Lancashire firm when she described their omelette pan as a "little gem", prompting sales to leap from 200 a year to 90,000 in four months.
The 'little gem' in action!

You can even buy said pan here on her website!

Sounds impressive, and it is. 

However, there is another side to Delia - she openly cheats at cooking. In fact, her initial cookbook was called How to Cheat at Cooking! A whole debate could be made as to what ‘cheating’ consists of, but I think it is easier you see it for yourself as she makes a Shephard’s Pie. 

One thing to note from her introduction is 'the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so when you taste it you'll know it's okay'. Okay seems to be the operative word here - immediately introducing audiences to a lower standard of proof when it comes to culinary delights (or is my inner cynic showing?). My inner cynic would go even further and say that her humility acts as a guise of 'cookers guilt' as she is fully aware the food she is preparing is not of quality... but for fear of a defamation charge I shall not continue. 

Thankfully later on in the clip she continues to show viewers how to prepare a leek, which is a surprise considering she grabbed a bag of ready prepared leek a few moments prior (to which a part of my soul vanished). For a recipe clip that is just over two and a half minutes it is upsetting to think that the only part of cooking skill/ability from scratch comes in at 1min 42 seconds. Not that I am saying all meals should be made from scratch, but for a television cook who based her career on educating the masses on how to cook it is troubling to see such blatant disregard for her own culinary niche.

Delia has been on British TV for decades and has published goodness knows how many books and recipes. Of course, I could factually look that up with a quick internet search… but in true Delia form I will cut corners to get a quicker finished product. 

Unlike Beeton who doesn’t really divulge in the origins of her recipes, Delia makes it very clear that she doesn’t make everything from scratch. Quite the contrary - she seems to revel in it. In fact if you once again have a brief look on her website - there is a whole section dedicated to her 'cheat' recipes - as the URL can reveal:

The themes and ideas I refer to above have  been seemingly put into practice in other forms of media. The music video ‘Everybody’s Fool’ by Evanescence is a prime example - exposing the superficial world we surround ourselves in. The introduction before the song starts is in a domestic setting that has a distinct late 60s/early 70s vibe to it. We see a teenage girl (played by lead singer Amy Lee) return from the kitchen with a pizza in hand, in what is clearly a television commercial. Twee music plays in the background as the family  hungrily awaiting their meal - are ecstatic to see the pizza. The other woman, presumably playing the mother asks the origin of the pizza:

“-And you made it all by yourself?”
“That’s our girl” 
The cut to the lead character who seems to break the 4th wall
This shot is pivotal. It immediately outlines the superficiality of the scene and shatters any culinary domestic skill we may have attributed to the character. Though brief, the almost overenthusiastic "OOPS!" - all in capital letters is undermined by the knowing smirk of deception. Ultimately - it is evident that this is a ready-made pizza, presumably frozen that has simply been heated through. 

This domestic setting is one dominated by women,  as in this example the male characters are submissive to the actions of women as to what the family is fed. 

The commercial ends with a summarative slogan that outlines the conflict for the rest of the music video “there is nothing better than a good lie” with an eerily cheery smily to boot. 

So - what has this all to do with body shaming I hear you ask? 

Well... everything and nothing.

After the patriarchal policing of what fruit a woman can be easily compared to in order to judge their body and the harsh ingrained judgement we cast on any woman that eats or 'drinks custard' - it only seems fitting that we shame the ways in which women prepare the food that is consequently consumed too. Fulfilling this domestic fantasy that has been conjured in the last century. The idea of the housewife, the domestic woman at home who is manager of the home. Beetonite women in the modern age. 

Rest assured I will include a brief analysis on Mrs. Beeton later on to add on to this entry!

Evanescence - Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 -
Screenshot from Everybody's Fool accessed 11/09/16 
Delia effect quote -